In case we didn’t all realize regionalism is an archaic concept in hip-hop, Fat Joe gave us the death notice on the Breakfast Club this week:
“Everybody wanna do boom bap… that ain’t it,” the 20-year rap veteran and member of legendary boom bap clique Diggin In The Crates admitted. He would know. Since “We Thuggin” in 2001, Joe’s been living off singles that transcend the confines of dusty drums — but he’s not an anomaly. Many successful New York artists have been limiting if not outright ignoring the classic boom bap sound for over 15 years.
Jay-Z made inroads in the then-burgeoning south on records with Jermaine Dupri, Juvenile, and UGK. Cam’ron went from asking “when we start bouncin’?” on 2000’s “Let Me Know” to creating “Bout It Bout It Pt. III,” which featured Master P demanding the listener do just that. 50 Cent rhymed about how he sounded “country” with his melodic twang on Get Rich Or Die Tryin. Nicki Minaj and French Montana had to take their talents to Atlanta to get on, and of course A$AP Rocky fooled many into thinking he was from Houston when he first popped up. There’s no question that all of those artists celebrate their hometown, but with Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” climbing the charts with a flow inspired by Kodak Black — a Florida rapper — it should be pretty obvious that their allegiance doesn’t have to extend into copying the city’s classic sound.
Since the advent of the internet, regionalism has become irrelevant. Gone are the days where artists hear one predominant sound on the radio and are forced to conform or move, à la DJ Premier’s transplant from Houston to New York. By the 2000s, Rocky had one-click access to Houston culture. Pretty much all of modern hip-hop aspirants have the same pool of music to “Tube-dig” and become inspired by. It’s no coincidence that so many new artists took cues from kings of the 2000s Lil Wayne and Kanye West, regardless of whether they were from Compton like Kendrick Lamar or Toronto like Drake. It should also be noted that Drake, Wiz Khalifa, Young Thug, and French Montana — some of today’s major rap purveyors — credit Harlem cult favorite Max B for inspiring their sound. Perhaps it’s not all bad for New York.
Today, Atlanta artists like Future, Gucci Mane and Young Thug are traceable in the DNA of a substantial number of the recent XXL Freshman lists. Producers like Metro Boomin, Young Chop, and Southside have developed an irresistible update on Jeezy-era trap that rocks anywhere. That influence is felt everywhere, even in New York. In fact, it was perhaps easier to take precedence in the Big Apple, where New York artists such as Desiigner have complained about New York radio not properly supporting local acts. With nothing but the 808-dominated atop the streaming charts and personalities like Ebro venerating the sound as “major league,” is it any wonder New York youth were so inspired by it?
Modern-day New York spitters like Dave East, Don Q, and Joey Badass infuse their sound with modern production. Perhaps they saw the relative lack of commercial success of lyricists like Joell Ortiz, Skyzoo, and Saigon, who are all extremely talented… but seemingly don’t get the support from older fans too busy complaining about (insert Atlanta rapper here).
Or maybe they saw the failure of Troy Ave’s “restore the feeling” campaign. The Brooklyn MC initially won some supporters off the strength of his New York City album and records like “Your Style,” but over time his fixation with “bringing New York back” got stale. His lost his own voice trying to reintroduce a grimy, bygone era of hip-hop into a hip-hop ecosystem craving progressive sounds and content. 50 Cent had trouble staying musically relevant in this climate, so an artist like Ave, who “borrowed” liberally from his style, had no chance.
As Joe noted on the Breakfast Club, “music moved on” from the boom bap sound that New York championed. No one will ever “bring New York back” to its golden era ubiquity, but it’s possible to bring the sound forward into 2017 and beyond. The smartest of the New York artists, such as Jay-Z and Joe, adapted with the changing sound, while a host of late ‘00s artists longing to bring that sound back to the top of the charts languished. Today, thanks to the internet, many young artists don’t even feel pressure to imitate that soundscape, because it’s a distant relic.
Hip-hop follows the thirst of the youth — and the money — and right now, most kids everywhere want melodic, 808-driven bangers. The charts prove it. “Bodak Yellow” proves it. Until more talented producers find ways to draw in mass appeal with traditional sounds à la early Kanye or classic Bad Boy, it’s going to stay that way.